Dmitri Shalikashvili's multivolume, unpublished reminiscences cover almost an entire half-century, from before World War I until the 1950s. The author, born in 1896 into a princely Georgian family of imperial Russia, was educated in the elite Imperial Alexander Lyceum in St. Petersburg. Dmitri spent most of his last year of school on horseback in an Imperial Horse Guard regiment mobilized for war against the Central Powers. Following the Russian Revolution and Georgia's declaration of independence in May 1918, Shalikashvili, by then a lieutenant in the Georgian cavalry, fought in the war against Armenia, the Russian Whites, and the invading Bolsheviks. In 1920 he was appointed to the Georgian military mission in Ankara, Turkey. When the Moscow-directed communist government took power in Georgia in early 1921, Shalikashvili remained in Constantinople. He and about a hundred other Georgian officers stranded in Turkey were soon recruited by the government of newly independent Poland as “contract officers.” Their Polish hosts saw them as allies and potential cadres in a new Georgian army in what they saw as an inevitable future conflict with Bolshevik Russia.
The Polish years in Dmitri Shalikashvili's life 1921–1939 were, in his own words, “happy, interesting, productive years.” Eventually sent to the Warsaw War College and promoted to major and squadron commander in the most elite of prewar Poland's cavalry units, the First Lancer Regiment of Marshal Pilsudski, Shalikashvili was a highly respected officer and prominent member of the Georgian émigré colony in Warsaw. He became fluent in Polish and met his future wife in Warsaw; after they married, all their children were born there. The Archives recently obtained an electronic copy of Dmitri Shalikashvili’s complete Polish military service record, thanks to an exchange agreement concluded by Hoover's European curator with the Central Military Archives in Warsaw, that substantially complements and illustrates the account in Shalikashivili's memoirs.
World War II, which began in September 1939 with a coordinated Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland, brought death and suffering to millions and changed the lives of most Europeans. Major Shalikashvili and his lancer regiment fought until the final days of that September against overwhelming odds. Beginning with an abortive raid toward East Prussia, followed by a long retreat south through central Poland, the survivors, without ammunition or food, found themselves trapped by superior German and Soviet units. The only sensible option was capitulation. The regimental commander gave his officers a choice of surrendering to either the Germans or to the Soviets. Those that chose the Soviet side ended up in the mass graves of Katyn and other killing fields of Stalin's Russia. Those that surrendered to the Germans ended up in prisoner of war camps, with most surviving the war. Shalikashvili, who knew the Soviet adversary well, made the right choice.
The next several years were the most difficult and controversial in Shalikashvili's life. After brief imprisonment in a German camp, his wife's German relatives won his release. He then moved back to Warsaw and rejoined the Georgian colony there. The Warsaw Georgians were divided: most were in complete solidarity with their Polish friends; others, especially after Hitler's attack on Soviet Russia, saw in the conflict a glimmer of hope of restoring Georgian independence. In early 1943, Shlikashvili volunteered to join the Georgian Legion, one of some two dozen “foreign legions” organized to help the German war effort. Shalikashvili and the other Georgians, mostly former Soviet POWs, were, however, disappointed when they realized that the Germans would not trust them to fight on the Soviet front but assigned them mostly to Western Europe. The end of the war found Shalikashvili in northern Italy, where he surrendered to the British in the final days of the war. His family was fortunate to survive the horrors of Nazi “total war” during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and to escape the advancing Red Army. Unlike most of the surrendering soldiers of the “eastern formations,” Shalikashvili was not handed over by the British to the Soviets, who routinely murdered the officers and sent the rest into the GULAG. Released from a POW camp in 1946, Shalikashvili lived for several years with his family in Germany and later moved to the United States, where he wrote his memoirs, and died in 1978. The memoirs are written in legible Russian longhand, with key portions available also in excellent English translation by Dmitri's wife Maria.
Prince Dmitri's two Warsaw-born sons followed their father's example by choosing military careers. The older, Colonel Othar Joseph Shalikashvili (born 1933), commanded the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Vietnam War, and later the Tenth Special Forces Group. The younger, a four-star general, John Malchase Shalikashvili (1936–2011), “General Shali,” was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 until 1997. In May 1995, John and Joseph brought their father's remains to the family's ancestral village of Gurjaani for reburial. By then Georgia had become again a fully independent and sovereign country, though, perhaps ironically, the head of state then was Eduard Sheverdnadze, onetime minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet Union and a retired KGB general.
Dmitri Shalikashvili was a lucky survivor, he escaped certain death from the hands of Soviet security organs in 1921, 1939, and 1945. He lived a full life, died surrounded by his family, and was buried with honors in his native country. The great majority of his comrades fared much worse. Even though some of the principal architects of Soviet terror, Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria, were Georgian-born, the Georgian death toll equaled or exceeded that from the other parts of the Soviet Union. Some fifty thousand opponents of the Soviet regime were murdered during 1921–1924; another hundred and fifty thousand Georgians were purged during 1935–1951.